Praising Juan Pierre

Marcus Hayes wrote a column recently praising the production of Juan Pierre while at the same time castigating proponents of Sabermetrics for having doubted him. I’m not hyperlinking to the article because I don’t want to reward him with even more pageviews than I already sent his way after openly mocking the piece yesterday on Twitter. Judging by the quotes in Hayes’ piece, even Pierre himself seemed a bit under-appreciated by the numbers crowd, praising his own ability to lay down bunts and go first-to-third.

The whole argument is mischaracterized, however. Yes, Saberists were less-than-enthusiastic about Pierre’s acquisition of the starting left field job with the Phillies, but for good reason: he had finished the previous two seasons — aged 32 and 33 — with a .657 OPS, more than 20 percent worse than the league average. In 2011, he stole only 27 bases in 44 attempts (61%). And overall, the most generous thing you can say about his defense is that it is average at best if you pay absolutely no attention to his noodle arm. In the previous four seasons, he had averaged just over one win above replacement (fWAR), right between a replacement-level player and an average player.

Statistically, the Phillies were much more likely to get the 2010-11 version of Pierre (79 OPS+) than the ’09 version (105 OPS+). Somehow, though, the Phillies got lucky and Pierre is having one of the best years of his career. He currently has a 101 OPS+ thanks to a .316 batting average. He has also been the team’s best base runner, stealing 21 bags in 25 attempts (84%) and producing 2.3 base running runs, per Baseball Prospectus. Pierre’s .337 wOBA is a few ticks above the NL average for left fielders at .331, when it was just .303 in the previous two years. Hayes cites Pierre’s 1.6 WAR (rWAR) but mistakenly categorizes it as poor. It actually puts him on pace for about 3.0, which is quite good.

The best part is that the Phillies are getting this highly-aberrant production from Pierre for the low, low cost of $800,000. They just got done with Raul Ibanez‘s three-year, $31.5 million contract in which he posted a 101 OPS+. Basically, the Phillies are getting the same production out of Pierre as they did with Ibanez for about one-tenth of the cost and with significantly less risk.

There isn’t too much else to say about Pierre’s season. Sure, the bunt hits are nice, but they are insignificant in number (10) and in impact, especially when counteracted by the sacrifice bunts with which he is 6-for-12, the second-lowest success rate among those with at least eight attempts. As for the first-to-thirds Pierre speaks of, he’s only done so six times, two fewer than the NL average and half as many as the league leader (Rafael Furcal, 13). When it comes to the things that really matter for Pierre — reaching base and advancing — he has done adequately so far. He won’t be nearly as productive next year, but we are quite content giving him credit for everything he’s done in 2012 to this point.

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13 comments

  1. nehi

    July 16, 2012 07:29 AM

    Hayes response: “already the sabremetrics guys are denouncing him for next year

  2. Dan K.

    July 16, 2012 07:37 AM

    “He won’t be nearly as productive next year, but we are quite content giving him credit for everything he’s done in 2012 to this point.”

    It wouldn’t hurt to throw “probably” into the beginning parts of that sentence. Most (sane) people completely agree with you. But we’ve all seen crazier things happen than a two year aberration.

  3. Çhris G

    July 16, 2012 08:28 AM

    Take your cybergenics and shove it!

  4. LTG

    July 16, 2012 08:56 AM

    I’m now totally fascinated by what cybergenics might be!

  5. hk

    July 16, 2012 09:52 AM

    I must have missed Marcus Hayes’s article about how right the sabremetric crowd has been about the Wigginton and Qualls signings.

  6. hk

    July 16, 2012 09:53 AM

    …and the two-year deal for $7.5M to Kyle Kendrick.

  7. Alan Silver

    July 16, 2012 12:13 PM

    In what sense is eight hundred thousand dollars a year a ‘low price’ to pay for someone to play sports? But characterizing an insanely high salary as a bargain for the team, you feed further into the story of sports that it should be rewarded with not only gobs of attention, but all the money we can find to throw at it.

  8. Bill Baer

    July 16, 2012 12:22 PM

    On average, teams pay about $4.5 million per one win above replacement, so Pierre will end up being worth about $13 million (if his current rate of production holds through the end of the season), returning about 16 times what the Phillies invested. That’s just a rudimentary estimate, but it should illustrate the point well.

  9. LTG

    July 16, 2012 12:32 PM

    I don’t think Alan Sliver’s point can be addressed by reference to actual market standards, since he wants to say that the baseball market itself is distorted or wrong or something like that.

    That said, I don’t think his point can be addressed by anything short of a dissertation about the relationship between wealth-inequality in the US and the amount of money spent on sports-entertainment.

    At any rate, I doubt your use of the concept ‘low price’ in a market-relative sense can be shown to reinforce ‘low price’ in an absolute sense on any intelligent reading of what you wrote. ‘Allen Iverson is short for a basketball player’ does not entail ‘Allen Iverson is short tout court.’

  10. Gaël

    July 16, 2012 01:35 PM

    Totally off-topic: LTG, did you just post about the Milgram experiment on Jim Emerson’s blog? (given the topic, I’m assuming it was indeed you and not another LTG)

    If so, well, it’s pretty hilarious to run into you there as well.

  11. LTG

    July 16, 2012 01:40 PM

    Yes, I love film and Emerson is one of the most intelligent writers on film I have found.

  12. Stan

    July 16, 2012 02:36 PM

    You are probably right about Pierre next year, but, when all of baseball had David Ortiz finished years ago the same things would have been said about him. 2012 all-star, they were wrong about him, they could be wrong about Juan.

  13. Gaël

    July 16, 2012 02:44 PM

    LTG,

    Yeah, Emerson’s pretty great. It’s just, you know, holy overlapping interests, Batman!

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